Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Sentenced to Swimming Lessons

It is that time of year again, when the weather becomes "swimming weather" that we must turn our attention to Swimming Lessons. It is my parental duty to ensure the children have sufficient swimming and floating skills to survive an accidental fall into a pool. There are so many pools and lakes in Florida they are about as hard to avoid as post-winter potholes in Buffalo. So the 3-year-old was scheduled for his first "refesher" lesson on Monday. I did not mention the lesson to him. I figured that would create a level of strife that I did not want to witness until the last possible moment. The 3-year-old does not like the swimming lessons. They make him angry. He has a firm memory of it from last spring. It involved him going into a pool against his wishes and without written consent. He has residual anger over it (along with swimming and floating skills), so we try not to bring up the topic over the winter. Now it was time to resume the lessons. Fortunately my parents were here over the weekend, along with my sister, so on Monday they were available to go with us. As the time for the lesson approached, I sneaked up on the 3-year-old and began changing him out of his superhero pajamas. As I started applying the swim trunks to his body, he turned his full attention to the swimwear. "What is THIS?" he said suspiciously. "We're just getting dressed," I said. He wasn't buying it. "These are MY TRUNKS!" he said in an accusing tone. "Yes." I was still trying to get them over his increasingly uncooperative ankles. "We're wearing trunks today." Well. We have a pool out back. There was no reason for him to believe I was going to secretly whisk him away to a Dreaded Swimming Lesson, except for the fact that I did the exact same thing last year at this time. Did he remember? Did he overhear me making arrangements with "Miss Daisy," his swim instructor, over the phone? Did he hear me whisper about it to my mother? Was it the Extra Sensory Toddler Perception that told him? Was I applying the trunks in a sheepishly guilty manner? Regardless. He knew. And he wasn't going to go quietly. He doesn't do much quietly, anyway, so this was no exception. I discovered he had somehow grown much stronger than last year, when I was usually able to get the trunks completely on within 45 seconds. Now I called for reinforcements. My sister Katie came to my aid. I held the upper torso. "Just get his legs into the trunks," I told her. Haha. Just. There's that deceptive little word that implies "it can be done without restraints or sedatives." Within 20 more seconds we were calling for my mother. Somehow he was able to turn his entire body into a completely rigid popsicle-like posture where I couldn't even get his legs apart. (We lost our grip on the ankles a while ago.) Somehow he was becoming LESS clothed the longer we were at it. My mother came and focused on getting just one ankle into the trunks. My sister was in charge of making sure the trunks did not come off again once we had made some progress. I still had the torso. Which was attached to the angry and complaining head. After the trunks were applied, I still had to get him into the car seat. Have you ever tried to buckle something as stiff as a large (and angry) popsicle into a car seat? This also was a multiple person operation. Finally he was buckled in and somewhat lubricated, due to the very angry tears. "I don't WANT to go to swimming lessons. I don't LIKE Miss Daisy. I don't WANT to go to her pool. I don't LIKE getting my face wet." The complaints were more articulate and descriptive this year. Last year it was mostly wailing. In all the excitement at getting out of the house on time, somehow we forgot the bag that had the towel in it. I almost turned around and went back, but we would be late. This class is run on a strict schedule, 10 minutes per student per day. If we were five minutes late we'd miss half our session. I debated what I had in the van to dry him with. Tissues? Old magazines? A baseball hat? We passed a thrift shop on the way to the pool. Did thrift shops sell towels, I wondered? My mother suggested I just use my sweatshirt turned inside out. It was sort of fluffy. And 3-year-old bodies aren't all that big. When we got to the lesson, Miss Daisy was happy to see him. Perhaps over the winter she had time to purge the memory of him socking her in the jaw last year. He was not happy to see her. I had to peel him off my body in order to hand him off to her. The session was not poetic. There was crying. Moaning. Thrashing. Arguing. (He used his more articulate powers to explain that the water was "too deep for babies," and that he didn't want to come here any more, and that the lesson was over.) He sputtered. Swallowed water. Wanted to leave the pool now. Wanted to go home immediately. Gave her these explanations repeatedly each time his head came out of the water. In spite of the strife, he seemed to remember some of his skills from last year. They were a little rusty, but he hadn't socked his teacher, so we all praised him for doing a good job. "Pools aren't for babies," he told us. "They're for BROTHERS." (Meaning the 5-year-old.) "I won't go back there." "We don't have to go back," I agreed. "Until tomorrow." Haha. I wondered how I would get the trunks on his body the next day, as my parents and sister were leaving. Well the following day he knew the lesson was imminent. The 5-year-old was home from school for a dental appointment, and had reminded him. This created an early morning funk. "The pool is too DEEP," he muttered repeatedly. "It's NOT for babies!" When I brought him the trunks this time his face crinkled with anger. Then, it happened. He threw some kind of switch in his brain. He decided to cooperate. Why? I don't know. It's possible that he knew from experience that we ended up at the lesson anyway, no matter how much he protested it. Or maybe he decided it would be easier to take if he could persuade himself he liked it. I honestly can't explain it. But I saw the switch being thrown, because I literally saw his face change. "I'm NOT afraid," he announced. "I'm going to Miss Daisy's pool." I quickly put his trunks on before he could change his mind. "BUT..." he continued. "I DON'T want to get my face wet." Well, no promises there. It's hard to learn to swim without getting your face wet. He sat on my lap while we waited for the baby ahead of us to finish her lesson. She was only 14 months old and had very powerful lungs. She screamed the whole time. The 3-year-old covered his ears with his hands and said, "That baby is TOO LOUD." When it was his turn, he walked right over to Miss Daisy. She was surprised to see him in a cooperative mode. But still with a certain degree of ambivalence, as he clung to a hand rail before she could take him out to deeper water. She had to pry him arms off. "I'm not afraid of the pool," he told her. "But I don't want to get my face WET." Then he went under. He was not happy, but his swimming and floating performance was much better. While I remembered the towel this time, I forgot his change of clothes. So I had to carry him to the car wearing a pajama top and Clifford underwear. Today, Day 3, was even more remarkable. "I'm not afraid of the pool," he assured me. "I'm just going to look at Miss Daisy's face!" Today he swam halfway across the pool, and did three unaided floats. He was able to pull himself up on the side, kick off, and swim to Miss Daisy in the middle. He looked like a Champion Swimmer and Floater. I would like to give myself some type of credit but I can't. He did it all himself. From the first angry day, to today's triumphant, "I DID it!" I am not sure how anything that parents do works. All I know is that sometimes it does. I think perhaps they just raise themselves, and we are just there to record it all on film or anecdote, and occasionally consult a manual if someone gets constipated. I don't know. Maybe I am not raising two boys. Maybe they are raising two parents. I mean that in the sense that we could never become functional parents without the assistance of two little handsomes to practice on. Parents shouldn't take too much credit or accept too much blame.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Monster in the Neighborhood

You know, we parents spend a great deal of time trying to convince the children that monsters aren't going to attack them while they sleep peacefully in their rooms each night. I know for myself the Monster Discussion is a nightly ritual, and I allay their fears only through elaborate scientific explanations that usually cause them to become so drowsy that they fall asleep in the middle of one of my exciting technicalities. Here are some of my night-time Monster Monologue Topics: 1) We lock the doors! (no monster is as thin as an envelope, and thus cannot slip under the door) 2) Monsters bigger than the house cannot fit in through the windows! (and we close the shades so we don't have to look at any giant monster eyeballs peering in) 3) Monsters like vegetables, and since my children rarely eat them, no monster would find my children nutritionally palatable! (when I give this explanation they never believe it, so I follow up with an exhortation on how important it is for budding baseball players to eat vegetables.) 4) Our homeowners association does not allow monsters in the neighborhood! (Figure, if we can't have garage sales, there is NO WAY monsters would be permitted. That's why we have a gate, I tell the kids.) 5) Monsters are afraid of the name of "Jesus" so once we say our prayers we are completely protected for the duration of the night! (the 5-year-old also writes "Jesus" on his pillow with his finger to ensure he has good dreams) 6) Monsters are extinct like dinosaurs! (We did not see a single one at Lowery Park Zoo.) 7) Monsters sleep at night! (Figure, they need their rest) 8) Monsters eat each other! (and alligators, too) 9) We have a Special Monster Alarm! (Well it's just the usual night-time security alarm, but I assured them that their father would immediately proceed to spear any monster with his pointy, metal-tipped walking stick. And I would have a pepper spray back-up) 10) Monsters are afraid of soap! (so if we take a bath each night and smell fresh, that deters them. And we can always squirt the Foaming Soap at them if they get too close.) So you can imagine with all this focus on monsterhood, how distressing I find a story such as the recent one about the girl in a north Tampa suburb who was abducted from her home, sexually assaulted, killed, and then buried in a neighbor's yard. This is a cute little girl who could belong to any of us, and who had her school clothes all laid out for the next morning. The details of the case make me want to rage around like, well, a monster. Newly emerging details make me even unhappier. Turns out the girl was abducted by the brother of a neighbor who lived about 150 yards away. This man was a repeat sexual offender who WORKED AT THE GIRL'S ELEMENTARY SCHOOL. I guess the sexual offender part did not disturb school officials when they saw it on the resume? Kidding. Of course it is not something a sexual offender mentions during the interview. But I know that new hires for many jobs have to have a background check run through the FDLE (Florida Department of Law Enforcement). So if the police new the guy was a sex offender (that's one of the reasons why he was questioned) then why wouldn't the elementary school know? Awaiting Big Boob Personnel Explanation. Don't worry, I have a long attention span. Take as much time as you like to come up with a ridiculous answer. Next. I was wondering how this guy got in at night without anyone hearing him. The girl lived with her father in her grandparents' home. Well new information from Mr. Sex Offender tells us that the door to the home was UNLOCKED. Gee, why don't we just take it right off the hinges, or maybe put a sign in our yard: "Our Locks Are For Decoration Purposes Only." I don't know the reason the door was unlocked. Oversight? I have a suspicion, though. The girl's father was out with his friends that night and didn't get home until the wee hours of the morning. I suspect this was not an unusual occurrence, and that the door was left open for him. Or he went out late enough to leave it open for himself. Unfair? Maybe. But I'm in a blaming kinda mood, and what was the father of a 9-year-old girl doing out until 4 a.m.? I haven't been out that late since I was single, and can't imagine an occasion that would keep me out that long now that I have kids. (Caveat: I can imagine getting UP that early for various child-related reasons.) As an aside, no one noticed the girl's absence until the next morning. Don't Carousing Dads check on their kids when they get home? Especially if the freaking door was left unlocked?! That's the first thing I do when I get up for a glass of water in the middle of the night. Check on the kids, in case someone's under a pillow, or at the edge of a bed, or sleeping in a funny position. Check. On. The. Kids. It's right there in the Parenting Manual that God gives you when you leave the hospital. It was on mine, anyway. I'm not suggesting it would have changed the situation any, as the girl was already gone. (although it could have, depending on timing and where the Monster Neighbor took her) I'm suggesting that parental indifference can lead to unlocked doors and other tragedies. Would any of this had happened if Dad was home and the door was locked? Maybe. This Neighbormonster knew who the girl was and could've snatched her on the way home. But that would've been broad daylight, and maybe harder to get away with. Third. The family never saw this guy and does not know the neighbor who lived 150 yards away. It is true that the Neighbor Monster was not a permanent resident of the house. He stayed their sometimes with his sister (who must have known Dear Brother was a registered sex offender!), and several other people. I am not claiming I know every one of my neighbors. But neighbors talk. And if there is a group of adults occupying a house, that is a Situational Oddity to begin with. (Unless it's an ethnic clan that is just getting its start in the U.S.) But un-related adults all living together in a group (the three others were unrelated) spell trouble to me. A situation worth watching. My word to kids: "Don't go near that house!" Turns out there was quite a bit of alleged drug abuse going on there. And if you saw the mug shots of these people in the paper, well, they make the Addams family look like Donna Reed and the Father Knows Best cast. I'm sure no costumes were necessary for any of their Halloween outings. The NeighborMonster himself is 46 years old, and looks about 80. The sister denied to the police that the brother ever lived there. Listen, lady, if your brother is innocent a chat with the police isn't going to do any harm. If he's involved with a child abduction and murder, maybe the world would be a better place if you told the truth. Anyway, most of these scary characters are up on various charges relating either to drugs or lying to the police. Another problem I have is with this guy's Sex Offender status. Apparently he was a registered sex offender (with multiple offenses) but not technically a sexual PREDATOR. I guess they only bother notifying the neighbors if you've reached the coveted PREDATOR status. So no one told the neighbors about this guy. (Least of all the dimbulb sister.) It is true you can look up registered sex offenders online. I do this every so often to make sure our neighborhood is safe! But you're never totally safe because there's always the first time offender and the Sexual Offender Wannabes. I provided the link for anyone in Florida who wants to check it out. They have nationwide ones, also. I feel sorry for the whole family. I wonder about the mother, who is understandably outraged at having lost her 9-year-old daughter. But she is living nowhere near her 9-year-old daughter. Let's just say Mr. Registered Sex Offender was seeing a lot more of the daughter than this mother was! He, after all, worked at her elementary school. The mother is living in Ohio with some other guy she married. Again, I'm speaking only for myself, but if I were in a situation where I was divorced and did not have custody of my kids, my very next lifelong action would be to make sure I was as geographically close to them as possible. (Hopefully right under their beds, but whatever I could manage.) I would NOT be five states away, at the TOP of the country as big as the U.S., while my kids were at the BOTTOM. Not unless I was in jail or had a military obligation. I don't pretend to know the mother's story. But I do know she was nowhere near her kid. She is to be pitied in more ways than one. And dad? I feel sorry for him too. He is now free to go out drinking as late as he wants. And leave the door unlocked if he so chooses. Meanwhile, I will continue my efforts to convince the kids that monsters don't exist. Even as I'm gruesomely aware that they certainly do.

Monday, March 21, 2005

300 Pound Gator Eats Local Citizen

I made a mention in a recent blog about a suspicious pond drowning in the local news. Well our suspicions may rest in peace, along with the unfortunate man, now that we have learned what caused his death. Our unfortunate citizen was turned into an hors d'oeuvre by a local alligator. Seriously! The man was found floating in a pond in South Lakeland, not far from where I buy gas. The alligator in question was nine feet, eight inches long and weighed 300 pounds. That is a BIG alligator. Picture it reaching almost as high as a regulation basketball rim standing nose to tail. And 300 pounds is about the weight of your average offensive lineman. The gator was not brought in for questioning, and no one read him his Miranda rights. Although he was doing what gators normally do, thankfully they do not yet enjoy the full protections under the law that humans do. You might be wondering how they are sure this particular alligator was fingered? They found the man's arm in the gator's belly. See! I told you angry wildlife doesn't just swim away when disturbed. They sometimes lash out and eat you! (Page 39 of my book "Nobody Move!") Also I have a whole essay on Shark Prevention Tips. I really think having wildlife eat you is not a fun way to go and I'm doing my best to protect the public in that regard. Now it is true that most alligators are shy by nature, and will swim away unless you are a toddler, small dog or a fruitcake. But if they think they have a shot at doing lunch with you, then you are apparently in trouble. To add to the deceased's woes, THIS local gator was apparently being fed by the neighbors. A TOTALLY illegal act, and if they find out who did it, someone is going to have to pay a $500 fine. Still, it won't bring back the dead man, who was not even in the position to shake hands with St. Peter at the Pearly Gates. Conventional alligator wisdom in Florida is that they can be in ANY naturally occurring body of water, no matter how small. Even the puddles in your driveway. Why, we have colonies of microscopic alligators all over the lawn, and...wait, those were the fire ants. Well if the fire ants were nine feet long and weighed 300 pounds I'm sure I'd be equally afraid of them. We know we have an alligator (maybe more than one) beyond our backyard in the pond that keeps growing ever larger. It used to co-exist back there with a small herd of cows that would graze while standing in ankle deep water. However I haven't seen the cows lately, so I am wondering if the gator developed a taste for roast beef au jus? You can now see why Australia's Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin should not have been holding his infant son while feeding a crocodile as a PR stunt for television cameras. The croc could easily have decided it preferred Steve's baby to dead fish or whatever he was offering. So my advice to those visiting Florida. Lakes, Rivers, Ponds and Oceans are for viewing and boating upon. Pools are for swimming. You violate this sensible rule at your limbs' risk. Better to be safe than turning up on the Alligator Menu as the Special of the Day.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Avert Your Eyes From Horror of Local News

I know it was just last month that I was complaining that my local news sounded like a trailer for an upcoming horror film. Well we had another one of those days again, so rather than suffer the headlines alone I must share them with you. It starts with a parked car rolling down the driveway and killing a 4-year-old. One of those fluke things where the grandmother was going to pick the girl up. While she's at the door talking to the mother, the 4-year-old runs out to the car, which has the driver's side door open. She is standing near the door when something kicks the car into neutral. Slipped gearshift? One of the other kids in the car? We don't know, but the 4-year-old got knocked down by the door and run over by the car. I can relate to how easy it is for something like that to happen. Just this weekend I BACKED OVER MY SON'S 3-foot-high flexible BATTING TEE with the car. Now I knew the kids were in the house, and fortunately I didn't damage any animal, mineral, vegetable or small child, but the fact is toddlers and little kids are about the size of this batting tee. So I could easily envision how dangerous stuff happens. When you've got little kids it doesn't hurt to check UNDER the car before driving anywhere. But the depressing news doesn't end there. Next on the docket it "Cyclist Critical After Accident." This was a 15-year-old who was mowed down by a guy with a previous history of DWIs. No word yet on whether he was under the influence of anything this time. The girl has since died. Next up: Man Killed By Train. I never understand the train incidents. Unless someone ties you to the track like Olive Oyl, how can you miss the fact that a train is coming? They're big. They're loud. They create a lot of rushing air. What makes people think this is a good time to play leapfrog on the tracks? This is the third train death in Polk County this month. Maybe terrorists are leaving dollar bills on the tracks? Beats me. Then there was a Suspicious Pond Drowning, and a man who was Tasered to Death, although the death was declared "not due to tasering." He just coincidentally expired of a post-drug "excited delirium" while in the process of being tasered. Apparently the culprit was his withdrawal from a prescription drug. Although, honesty, I could picture myself having an "excited delirium" or even a "really angry and terrified delirium" if someone were tasering me. Sort of like Dying of Fear after your knife attack. The puncture wounds are incidental. Hopefully tomorrow's news will be better. Maybe a homeless person will win the lottery and flowers will be planted somewhere. Kids will return home safely and the train conductor will report a uneventful journey. The police will talk the suspect into the car without resorting to weapons, or better yet, no suspicious activity will occur to warrant anyone being questioned or subdued! All toddlers and small childern will be cherished and watched over by vigilant parents, and no freak accidents will occur. The devil will take a day off and we'll all drive without tailgating. Well, we can try.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

The OLDEST States

Would you like to guess the three U.S. states that have the oldest population, in terms of median age? Well two of them ARE NOT Florida and Arizona! Although these are popular retirement destinations, apparently they are also popular places to raise young families. And why not, in Florida you can play sports year round (except for the Christmas holiday shopping, eating and gift-wrapping interlude). I remember in Buffalo waiting anxiously for the mud to dry up enough for the summer baseball season to start. This was never earlier than May, and even May could be iffy. And we would wait longingly for the neighbors to start removing their pool covers, and even when they did we would risk pneumonia to jump into the 65 degree water. (Now unless the pool is 85 I take a hot shower.) And fall starts promptly in October. Nay, mid-September, so you have to have all your warm weather activities finished by then or you risk getting blown into Lake Erie. So which states take top honors in the grizzled veteran of life category? Maine, Vermont and West Virginia! Places people NEVER retire to! (Unless they happen to already be there.) I think the reason is that the stubborn New Englanders get comfortable in their house and refuse to leave unless they've been embalmed. If fact, it gets so cold up there I'll bet undertakers wait a few years after death until officially declaring the person deceased, so that adds a few years to the average age. Figure, if you're frozen solid there is no real drawback to "giving it a little time" to ensure death has actually taken place. Whereas in Florida or Arizona you can't take that chance, even with air conditioning. Now in West Virginia the problem is that they have not heard of Florida or Arizona, so they have no idea you can go someplace else to retire. But once they get televisions that may start to change. Kidding! I was in West Virginia a couple times and I'm pretty sure I saw televisions. Or at least radios. So if you meet someone from Maine, figure they are at least 10-20 years older than they look. They are just well preserved because they don't have the sun beating down on their faces every day. And if you bump into a Floridian, well, we are all young here. And we have the tee ball uniforms to prove it!

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Top 10 Horrifying Foods

There are a lot of lists floating around on the internet, bobbing like flotsam, purporting to tell us what are the worst foods for us to eat. These lists skip over the obvious, like dirt. (Although this is never obvious to children under the age of two.) I guess a list like that would be something like: dirt, raw meat, radioactive materials, antifreeze, poisonous plants, excrement, hazardous wastes, yellow snow, dryer lint and, of course, hot dogs. Scientists have long suspected hotdogs are not really a food. They have been on steroids since the foot-long era began. Anyway, these lists I'm actually talking about are "intriguing" because they refer to real foods that millions of people eat daily. So let's take a look at the Horrifying Foods and see which might have crawled onto YOUR plate while your mother wasn't looking. 1) Quaker Harvest Crunch Original Blend Cereal. Also indicted were the Quaker 100 percent natural Oats & Honey Granola. Allegedly this healthful, natural product contains three teaspoons of sugar (even Mary Poppins recommends just ONE teaspoon to make medicine go down), along with more fat than a Mickey D's hamburger. For breakfast! Well fine, so maybe you shouldn't eat it every day, but when the worldwide famine breaks out, I want THIS product hands down, no questions asked. I'll bet you can live for a year on a couple boxes of the stuff. 2) Bugles. (Pause. Snap awake to the sound of reveille playing in your head). Bugles! This is a Call to Nutritional Arms. First of all I have to say that Bugles are one of those unique snack foods that have no pale imitation. Can you think of a fake, or off-brand version of Bugles? I can't. They have that nifty "bugle" shape. That satisfying crunch. The delightfully salty taste. (Ahem. Bugle people, do you need a product spokesperson? If I'm gonna shill, I'd be even better if I were paid.) Supposedly these are fried in coconut oil, which contains highly saturated fats. (ie TWICE as saturated as good old fashioned LARD.) I would also point out that my grandmother always kept these in her house and served them to us regularly. She is in her mid-nineties, so I have to say Bugles haven't harmed her any. 3) Fettuccini Alfredo. I guess the average dinner portion has 97 grams of fat, which is what, like a week's worth? But I have been trying to get my friend Libby's recipe for her fabulous Fettuccini Alfredo for more than a decade and a half. So what if I use up a month's worth of fat in one sitting? During the Depression people ate lard right out of the can! Or right off the hindquarters of the cow! Whichever was available. If I'm gonna eat the Alfredo, I'll make peace with the fat. 4) Pizza Hut New Yorker Big Pizza. Allegedly this weighs three pounds before they even bake it. And after you eat it, I guess it weighs six pounds in your stomach. Two slices make up approximately half your calories for the day, unless you're a pro athlete or an extremely fat man. Bummer! Well I have never been philosophically opposed to starting on TOMORROW'S calories a day early. My objection is purely one of taste. Pizza Hut is okay for hungry kids, but if you want REAL pizza you need to go to Buffalo. 5) Movie Theater Popcorn. They say the classic kind is popped in the evil coconut oil. "Unbuttered" it allegedly has three days' worth of fat. Add the fake butter and you're up to four days. (Quick question: Will this subtract four days from my total lifespan? If not, do I really care?) Unfortunately if you eat the whole 20 cup bag yourself (technically, the "large bucket") it is the equivalent of eight Big Macs. THAT can't be good. You should only eat a whole bucket yourself if you've lost your job or the love of your life. 6) Entenmann's Rich Frosted Donut (Variety Pack). One measly doughnut packs as much saturated and trans fats as NINE strips of bacon. So I'm thinking maybe it's best to not have the doughnut WITH nine strips of bacon. Although I know I'm perfectly capable of that. But these chocolate doughnuts are truly a Glutton's Delight. A definite Dyngus Day possibility. (That's the Monday after Lent for those of you who aren't Polish or Polish savvy.) 7) Haagen-Dazs Ice Cream. Boo. Hiss. If you can spell it, you ought to be able to eat it. Supposedly has twice the fat of regular ice creams. As an aside, I think ice cream is "nature's perfect food." As in, my nature would be perfectly satisfied to eat ice cream for the rest of my life and nothing else, if I had to pick just one food. There's always room for ice cream. And we ALL scream for it! The stick-in-the-muds say to go for the low-fat frozen yogurt, but I say you have to splurge once in a while. Actually raspberry sherbet is pretty good too. 8) Campbell's Regular Soups. What, we're stuck with the "Healthy Choice?" I guess they have a lot of salt. Well we NEED salt in order for our bodies to operate correctly. If we had no salt then ice would build up in our veins, that's roads in the winter. Well something bad would happen, I'm sure of it. Plus if you use the soup in a casserole it kind of gets spread out in a bunch of servings eaten by others. My advice would be: Don't ADD salt to your Campbell's regular soup. 9) Frito-Lay WOW Potato Chips. Heh. I know the secret of the "Wow" (no fat) and it isn't pretty. They use the fake fat to make these, which causes gastric distress in some people. It is an indigestible Fat Substitute that actually leaches nutrients out of your body. It "can" cause severe cramps, diarrhea and other exciting gastrointestinal symptoms. Some people have even had to go to emergency rooms to upchuck their chips on the ER personnel. Allegedly! Personally I agree we should stay away from these. 10) Denny's Grand Slam Breakfast. My brother Rob loves these! I think they're pretty good too. But unless you're eating them daily you will probably survive the 800 calories, 50 grams of fat and 2,240 mg of salt contained in the 2 eggs, 2 sausages, 2 strips of bacon and 2 pancakes that make up the Grand Slam. The best time to eat this is when you're on the road and you don't want to bother stopping for lunch. You won't have to, you already ate your lunch's calories! Horrified yet? Neither am I. Other than the FAKE FAT POTATO CHIPS I would be willing to eat any of these foods. But probably not every day. Notice also that these are all very American foods (except the Haagen Dasz, although I'm sure we eat more of it here than the Scandinavians do) and the alfredo, although I supsect they might make a lighter version of it in Italy. But I'll tell you right now if I could live to 150 by just eating celery sticks, I wouldn't do it. (Pause. Dream of celery sticks with the cream cheese and the paprika...) I feel confident that heaven has some mighty good restaurants. And hell has rice cakes.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

At Least It Wasn't a Stain in the Butt

Normally a few flying tomatoes are not a big deal in my kitchen. They are cleared for takeoff and landing, and visibility is pretty good on most days. True, I was considering installing an Anti-Ballistic Toy Defense Shield at the perimeter when the boys fired a plastic golf ball right into my homemade spaghetti sauce last year. (An amazing shot that could have been showcased in any number of teen movies.) But generally I figure I have good reflexes, and a golf ball doesn't look all that different from a meatball when covered in sauce. Has anyone died from eating a golf ball? I think not! But the other day the tomatoes flew out of my omelette pan and made a mess on the floor. I hurriedly wiped it up because the 3-year-old and I had to pick up the 5-year-old from school in a few minutes, and then rush him to his first ever piano lesson. We were meeting the teacher that day, so I even checked my appearance in the mirror. Well as we were walking from the van to the school pickup area I looked down and noticed a large, bright red-orange splotch on my knee. It sort of looked like maybe I had regurgitated a bloody mary. It was reminiscent of Curt Schilling on the mound for the Redsox (bloody ankle) or Mickey Mantle running to first base for the Yankees (bleeding knee). Or, basically, like I had just been shot and had forgotten to go to the trauma center. How could I not notice this? Well obviously I didn't look down at myself as I rushed out of the house. I only get a chance to look down at myself every couple of weeks or so, and this wasn't one of those times. Plus there was no way I could change or even attempt to get the stain out without clinging to the hood of the van as we negotiated an automatic car wash. Too bad I don't fit into the boys' clothes, but there you have it! I would have to meet the piano teacher looking like a member of the Lakeland Hillbillies. I was wearing jeans of a powder blue color, too, which really showed off the stain. Could I pass it off as a vegetable-based tie-die project? Doubtful. Not without matching relish on my shirt. What to do when we reached the lesson? Explain I'd been attacked by a local panther in the driveway but fought my way to the piano lesson anyway? Talk to her from a hunched over position while I covered it with my hand and arm? Tell her I got Spaghetti-Os at the McDonald's drive through? I should have been focusing on my son's future as a Musical Prodigy, and instead I'm obsessing over a stupid food stain! Fortunately there are maps in the car. The teacher didn't even ask me why I needed a Giant Atlas of Florida in order to find our destination. Is this why they don't serve Spaghetti-Os at the pre-Oscar telecast parties?

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Motorcycle Gangs Like Dolphins

Last weekend I took the kids to visit the local dolphins at Clearwater's Marine Aquarium. My parents have a winter place in Clearwater, and my brother Rob was visiting too, so we went for an Aquatic Adventure. Now don't get the idea this is a fancy aquarium of the type that has movies and high priced displays. These are more like lower middle class dolphins who are barbecuing in their backyard. As luck would have it, the Hell's Angels chose this particular day to visit the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. By "Hell's Angels" I'm referring to men riding big motorcyles, and wearing leather jackets and bandannas, and with multiple tattoos. They could very well have been "Purgatory's Angels," or "Hell's Bouncers," or "Businessmen Reliving Their Wild Youth," but I never ask Motorcycle People anything, I just assume the worst. So we made sure not to park near them and went to the aquarium anyway. Our first stop was the Stingray Petting Zoo. Doesn't there seem to be something intrinsically wrong with this concept? Like the Eel Catch 'n' Toss Parlor Game? Or the Shark Joyride? Or the Porcupine Snuggle? Well, regardless, they allow children (and others even older!) to go right up to the waist-high open tank, stand on a step, lean over and "pet" the stingrays. I guess the idea is to avoid petting the "Sting" part, and just touch the "Ray." The 5-year-old claimed he wanted to pet the stingrays, but as soon as he got close enough for a good look he decided the stingrays were shy and he'd be better off not touching them. The 3-year-old was even more emphatic. The whole thing looked "messy" to him, and he is very fastidious about what touches his hands. He didn't even want to climb up and get close. (Don't ask me where he gets his fear of stains from. He has certainly created enough of them.) However there was another boy there with his father. He was maybe eight years old. The dad advised him to roll up his sleeves so he didn't get them wet. Well the kid doffed his entire shirt! I thought he was going to jump right in the tank and maybe tickle the stingrays on their bellies! It wasn't like it was a hot day, or anything. Then we went to the Fish Gazing area. The boys liked that, because fish as big as their faces floated by. There was also this gigantic...mmmm....let's say as big as a double oven....turtle floating in the tank. We were looking at it from below. "Look," I said to the boys. "It must have its head above water and we're looking at his bottom, and there's his tail..." Well then the tail area lifted up and scowled at me, a little perturbed, I suppose, that I had mistaken the turtle head for the turtle butt. Sorry about that! An easy mistake to make! Then we went upstairs and watched the adolescent dolphins cavorting. Dolphins are always fun, although they make me a little nervous because with all this talk of their intelligence, I keep imagining they understand what we're saying about them. There was another tank that we were looking down at that had an extremely gross dead turtle. Also pretty large. As large as a double oven. Why the heck didn't they yank that thing out of there, all gross and....WHOOPS! It was the same turtle. We were now looking at his above-water butt. And he appeared to have an accute hemorrhoid problem. Well all I can say is this turtle is not going to get a prom date anytime soon. With a head that looks like a butt, and a butt that looks like a decaying omelette. Fortunately just at this moment we ran into the Hell's Well-Behaved Motorcycling Crowd. They were there with a talking, brightly colored bird! He was taking all the attention away from the cavorting dolphins, bored stingrays and diseased turtles! They were letting other people come up to him and say hello and pet him. God Bless the Hell's Friendly Aquatic Diversion! So other than the gift store and the gumball machine, that's pretty much the extent of the Clearwater Aquarium. Well of course there are the giant painted turtles you can get your picture taken next to. The 3-year-old liked those. Not slimy at all! But if you want a real "entertainment experience," I think you need to go to the Aquarium in Tampa. That's probably fun with or without motorcycle gangs being there.